Top 3 books to help declutter your life

Each book is about the wonders of an organised environment, the richness of an existence where less is more, and living with a purpose.

Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, Dominique Loreau’s L’Art de la Simplicité and Héctor Garcia and Francesc Miralles’ Ikigai (Photo: Vern Cheng; artistic direction: Joanne Lim/The Edge)

Marie Kondo is Japan’s most famous home organiser who, over the years, has mastered the art of tidying up. Her “KonMari” method promises a home that will leave you in a state of “organised bliss”.  Quite an eccentric, Kondo pursues each category (not by location) — clothes, books, paperwork, home appliances and more — with an extreme frenzy. No category is left unturned.

Her militant-style counselling — she has a three-month waiting list in Japan — particularly resonates with women who find the task of decluttering and organising overwhelming. She believes learning the secret of how to put your house in order can be fun by simply keeping what you love and discarding things that cease to yield pleasure or to have purpose. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, she reveals the formula and details the process of how to discard and organise based on the ultimate determining factor — does it spark joy?

Kondo recommends starting with two major categories — your clothes and books. Taking all your clothing out of storage and reviewing each item to determine what makes you happy at the present moment and then eliminating what no longer gives you pleasure. As simple as that. But before she gets rid of things, she talks to the objects first, giving thanks and bidding farewell, taking a moment to appreciate how it has served her life. A little eccentric for some (but probably very Japanese in culture), it is an act of respect for all the things acquired in your lifetime. I actually found it spiritually soothing to mentally thank my old but favourite clothes and shoes and wishing them well in their new home.

Discarding is the easiest area of Kondo’s method. It is then followed by the hardest part — putting things away; folding as much as you can into smooth rectangles so that the folded items can stand on edge in the drawer, rearranging your wardrobe space by colour, type, texture and function. Kondo also has a system for storage that begs patience and a certain level of compulsiveness to follow. Nevertheless, I took the ideas that were helpful and ignored what were incomprehensible and laborious. 

With books, the next big category (and, personally, one of the hardest items to let go of), she again suggests laying every book you have on the floor and physically checking each one to see if the book still resonates with love when you touch it. Decide on your own “Book Hall of Fame”, featuring the best-read books that inspired your life, which will then give warmth to your home and bookshelves.

Kondo advises to keep sentimental objects for the last as they are the hardest to rationalise. She understands that many things are there for an emotional reason or have a unique memory attached to them. By handling each item (instead of dumping everything into a box to be kept in your storeroom), Kondo believes that you confront the past. Choose only the items that evoke joy and clear away sad recollections that will then create space for new opportunities in the future.

After reading a couple of chapters of Kondo’s book, I came across Dominque Loreau’s L’Art de la Simplicité or How to Live More with Less (the English translation). Apparently a bestselling author in her native France, Loreau, who has lived in Japan for many years, wrote a book based on the Oriental philosophy of living with a very French twist. Her book has a “je ne sais quoi” feel to it and although some may find it pretentious (like eating sushi with foie gras), her raison d’être is to single-mindedly get her readers to detach from everyday materialism. Her style is more pared down, promoting a subdued aesthetic yet embracing beauty and sensuality.

With Loreau, the reader must adopt a minimalist state of mind.  Simplify your home and life with only the best; keep it subtle yet rich in beauty. Loreau seduces you into a world of high-level minimalism, which includes head-turning art and select designer pieces, compelling the reader to discard everyday acquisitiveness. Only keep what satisfies your senses as well as things that are functional and robust. Everything must have its own place and a home that is tidy beckons good energy.  Simplicity, according to Loreau, is the union of beauty and the appropriate.

Ultimately, quite similar in substance to Kondo’s book and with the same goal — to live with just your best — Loreau goes beyond the home and delves into one’s inner ecology … from the space you live in to finding a more centred life. The book provides an opportunity to reorganise your daily living habits — eat less but well, feel well in your home and in your body, savour simple pleasures that are free — and even clearing your mind.

In search of a new resolution that I could possibly keep for 2018, I was happily introduced to Ikigai by a friend who knew of my search for purpose. Both Garcia and Miralles write about the Japanese secret to a long and happy life. The authors interviewed the residents of the island of Okinawa, which has the highest percentage of people over the age of 100, to understand their secret to longevity.

According to the authors, the residents lived longer because of their ikigai — reason for living. A state of mind that allows you to keep going, keep busy and keep living — “the happiness of always being busy”.

A good and easy read that investigates Japanese culture and philosophy, it provides solutions to overcoming stress, the importance of moderate physical activity, a select diet and social connections. Apparently, Okinawa leads in the world’s Blue Zones — where people live the longest and much of the secret to their longevity is to respect your body, and stay active and connected to loving environments. The book is the perfect weekend read for the newly retired, although the Japanese do not have a word for that or believe in it.  

Since reading the books, I have minimised my “maximalist home” and given my stockpiles of clothes, books, linen and more to deserving people. I now go with the “flow”, having found my ikigai to live in the present and to constantly learn, giving myself new challenges each month. I did not take all of the advice offered by the three books. Some I found conceptual and even needless. But the essence of the books — to live intentionally surrounded by meaningful possessions, to embrace humility in everything you do and to create a purposeful life — is endearing. More importantly, if followed and respected, the end result is definitely rewarding.  


This article first appeared in Issue no 87, Spring 2018 of Haven. 

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